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Incidentally, what was considered the ideal hand for piano has changed over time. Josef Lhévinne lamented that he didn't have nice, fat fingers (like Rubenstein). When Prokofiev was young, his teacher said his fingers were too long to play well.
The hand matters less than the mind that wields it.
Rachmaninoff made a recording of Chopin's op. 9, no. 2 nocturne, that is the best I have ever heard. With all of his skill, he was able to play this (some would say) simple piece with masterful taste and restraint.
I remember about eight or ten years ago that Classical Music magazine (think that's the correct name, not sure) did a story rating the greatest pianists of the recorded era and they chose Richter first, Rubinstein second, Horowitz third, I think. Rachmaninoff was further down the list. I have heard every recording he made that is on cd and I feel he is a very good pianist, but like many of the "golden" era, he was not always as true to the composer as some of the more modern pianists. In terms of virtuosity, he did not show off and seemed to have the chops, but at one point he quit playing his own third concerto because he said Horowitz's performances were so much better. (Age may also have been a factor.) With a lot of other performers of his era, recording techniques were not great and his live performances may have been much better than the recorded ones. Who knows? How did Liszt sound? No one today will ever know. As to his large hands, I think he has made our work hard for us in his compositions because of those huge hands. I think they are an advantage, but not the only advantage. He was a world-class artist, even if maybe not the very top one of his era. (Just my opinion based on recordings I have heard.) Great, great composer, however. Too bad he had to turn away from composition more and more to make a living as a pianist.
...but like many of the "golden" era, he was not always as true to the composer as some of the more modern pianists.
Part of the joy of listening to great performers from a different era is to recognize how performance practices change. To imply that not being "true to the composer" makes Rachmaninoff less great is to miss the point, IMO. Along with a less rigid adherence to the score, players from his era inserted much more creativity and individuality into their playing. And, based on written accounts we have of great composers playing (eg. Beethoven), their playing was described similarly. Perhaps our current fascination with playing exactly what the score decrees and nothing more isn't necessarily the ideal approach?
My impression is that, for his time, Rachmaninov was far more modern(in the sense of following the score) than many pianists of his day. Also, less extreme in his interpretive choices than some other pianists like Paderewski, Hoffman, de Pachman(who was admittedly 20 years older).
Perhaps our current fascination with playing exactly what the score decrees and nothing more isn't necessarily the ideal approach?
Or maybe playing what's in the score still allows for a huge variety of different interpretations. After all, I think most of the great pianists in the last 50+ years played mostly(enough so all but the super literalists wouldn't complain) what's in the score.
Random thoughts: Rachmaninoff extolled Anton Rubinstein (who sometimes played inaccurately): yet Rachmaninoff's (unedited) recordings seem as perfect as the most modern (mostly edited). Rubinstein's inaccuracy was attributed to his large hands and broad fingers (my father had the same problem...his fingers literally stuck between the keys!) Rach asked Rubinstein the secret of his great tone; the reply was "Press until your fingers bleed". Some rankings place Rach as #1 (as do I). One source said he could span up to a 14th! Amazing that he could achieve such speed, delicacy, and accuracy, with such large hands. But his musicality, the line, the "vox humana", was so superior that I prefer his playing even on the sonically-awful 20's acoustic recordings. The 2 "Window in Time" re-engineered piano roll recordings are also quite good (with the advantage of perfect piano sound). The newest "re-engineered" reproducing piano recordings with the original acoustic recordings as source, are not quite as convincing (but still better than the original unimproved Ampico reproducing piano recordings). Rachmaninoff's touch was unequalled, in my opinion, and only "hearable" on direct audio recordings. But his rhythm, tonal emphasis, and overall sweep, are still evident in the best reproducing piano recordings (even a part of the best is still very good!)
More reminscenses: I believe it was Abram Chasins, who was visiting Rachmaninoff's home (perhaps the apartment in the Garden of Allah in Hollywood, CA?), and as he approached, still outside, he could not recognize the music being practiced. I turned out to be something he knew well, but it was so agonizingly slow, that the clever Chasins was baffled. Rachmaninoff could have ripped off any new tune at lightning speed, by sight or by ear, well enough and fast enough to dazzle anyone but God. Something he already knew, likely for 50 years, he rewelded into his brain and fingers because that is the level of perfection he wanted: the technique of Lhevinne and Hoffman, with the hands of Michael Jordan. A movie-star neighbor complained about the noise once, and I don't think because the star was selfish or a musical ignoramus. REAL practicing is no fun to listen to, no matter who is doing it.